When was the last time someone you just met could honestly and without judgement peg your leadership shortcomings in a matter of minutes? Thousands of articles are written each year on what it takes to be a good leader and as many lectures given to promising MBA students on the merits of good leadership. However, where do you get the direct, unbiased feedback about what’s not working along with the opportunity to practice it on the spot? With a horse, of course!
As a prey animal, horses have survived for millions of years because of their herd structure, along with an innate ability to sense what’s occurring in the environment around them. Within each herd there’s a leader, supported by other horses with established roles that contribute to their overall success. While leadership can be challenged from time-to-time, ultimately horses just want to get along in order to survive, making them a successful role model for today’s organizations.
Because a horse’s survival is so dependent on leadership, when they engage with a human, they’re trying to figure out, “what is your relationship to me, can I trust you, and are you in charge or am I?”. As nature’s biofeedback, a horse intuitively clues in on key factors that an individual projects as a leader. These are not only important to a horse, as it turns out, but dynamics that will make or break a leader’s effectiveness in the workplace. However, only a horse will provide that feedback instantaneously.
Here are just 5 of the ways that working with horses in the right setting will quickly put you in the lead with your leadership skills:
- Self-awareness: Today’s leaders often aren’t aware of what’s not working until it’s too late. We see it reflected in poor results, employee conflict and drama, and often career stagnation. Self-awareness is crucial. Through immediate feedback from a horse, you’ll realize how your aggressiveness, weakness, arrogance, or confusion is impeding your effectiveness. A horse will quickly sense your conviction, thoughts, and interpret your body language in a similar way that humans sub-consciously do, only a horse’s sensitivity to it is magnified significantly. For example, in one situation a horse realized in just a few short minutes that a CEO lacked boundaries. The CEO finally came to terms with it 20 minutes later in a gentle yet insightful experience that changed her personal and professional life (full story at http://tinyurl.com/kholdsj)
- Self-Management – Joshua Freedman, emotional intelligence expert, says an effective leader is one that manages their emotions. They understand where they’re coming from and use them intelligently to gain the right performance levels within themselves and in achieving interpersonal effectiveness with others. If you’re feeling frustration, panic, or calm-control over a situation, a horse will reflect it back to you in a way that increases self-awareness and allows the practice of emotional self-management in real time.
- Integrity – Horses don’t care what clothes you wear, how much money you make, or what your title is for that matter. They look for integrity through your authenticity, including an alignment between what you’re saying, thinking, and doing. If there’s disparity, horses sense the incongruence, don’t feel safe, and question whether you can be trusted. This can evoke fear, which when escalated can turn into flight, or more simply they don’t choose to be with you. We too often see this in today’s business settings. The small things we often unknowingly do or say, or the inconsistency in our behavior causes a lack of trust within the organization. People begin to leave, or worse yet, they stay and disengage.
- Communication – Horses respond to one another, and to humans, not through what’s said but rather being communicated in body language. Research indicates that at least 90% of a human’s communication is non-verbal, as well. This means what we give off through body signals has a great deal more to say than our words. As acoustical beings, horses can sense the vibrations our bodies emit including the rise and fall of our blood pressure. For instance, if you’re talking to your team about a new strategy and yet you deeply doubt the plan’s success, your blood pressure will elevate. A horse senses this incongruence, as evidenced in a shift in their behavior, providing a strong indication of how the slightest things in what we do and think affects others.
- Empathy – People leave companies because of people not the job. Employees want to be heard, treated fairly and with respect – an environment that strong leaders create. Forcing a horse to do something may eventually get the results you want, but taking the time to build a strong relationship based on trust goes a lot further. When working with horses we learn what it takes to build a connection with others; one based on trust and caring, where a community of belonging, collaboration, teamwork, diversity and honest communication exists.
Through equine experiential education programs, horses are increasingly becoming workplace change agents for not only leadership but team development. They teach new levels of self-awareness so that we, in turn, can make different choices. Through those choices we can begin to embody true and inspired leadership where not only do we thrive, but where our employees and our business can, as well.